I'm not sure I have ever seen a team endure as many highs and lows in the course of one 40-minute basketball game as Michigan State did on Sunday.
-(High) The Spartans storm out of the gate, building up a double-digit lead after just ten minutes.
-(Low) Kalin Lucas crumples to the floor towards the end of the half. The team would no longer have its leader.
-(Low) Maryland begins to chip away in the 2nd half, cutting the lead to just 5.
-(High) Durrell Summers to the rescue, scoring 11 points in three minutes. Men in Green by 15.
-(High) I enjoy a perfectly toasted egg bagel with a nice glass of C-Milk (Chocolate, for the uninformed).
-(Low) ACC Player of the Year Greivis Vasquez will simply not go quietly into the good night. He rips off 10 points in the final 1:54, capped off by a feathery floater with 7 ticks left, putting his Terps up by one.
-(Ultimate High) Draymond Green (suddenly a flawless ball handler) dribbles up the floor, and exhibiting as much patience as you will ever see in a last-second, down by one situation, turns and lasers a pass to Korie Lucious at the top of the key. And I think you know what happens next...
It was a wild day with an even wilder finish. The Spartans' best player went down, his replacement stepped in, and canned the game-winning trey with nothing but zeros showing on the clock. Spielberg couldn't have scripted it better.
But now, reality sets in. Tom Izzo and his merry band of followers must continue their voyage through the bracket without Kalin Lucas. Opposing teams promise to have no sympathy.
Fortunately, the team awaiting them is not big, bad, Kansas, the tournament's #1 overall seed. Instead, it is little Northern Iowa, from the little town of Cedar Falls, led by their little point guard Ali Farokhmanesh. But this team is no pushover.
They play devastating defense in the half-court, holding high-powered Kansas to just 67 points, its lowest total in 10 games. They start three seniors and a junior, a rarity in today's one-and-done world of college hoops. They bring an actual circus freak off the bench in 6'6" forward Lucas O' Rear. (Rumor has it that O' Rear is the bastard love child of Birdman Andersen and Amy Winehouse.) So this team pretty much has it all. Except one thing became painfully clear in the win over Kansas.
This team doesn't like being pressed. Not one bit.
The Panthers had maintained a steady lead throughout the game. They shot better than Kansas, they played better defense than Kansas. They were simply the better team on that day. But, when Bill Self finally decided to unleash the hounds and attack these guys using all 94 feet of hardwood, the momentum shifted in the blink of an eye. Northern Iowa couldn't get the ball past half court. They threw long cross-court passes that were easily picked off and taken for quick layups. Sometimes, they couldn't even get the ball inbounded at all. Quite honestly, I've never seen a team so spooked to be facing a little full-court pressure.
But alas, it was too little, too late. Had Bill Self unveiled this pressure earlier in the contest, would the final result have been different? In all likelihood, yes.
Much like Kansas, Michigan State will have the advantage athletically over the kids from Upper Iowa. After all, we are talking about a top tier Big Ten school against a group from the Missouri Valley Conference. It's not quite apples and oranges, but it's something like it. If guys like Raymar Morgan and Durrell Summers can tap into their superior athletic ability and let loose on Friday night, I don't think the Panthers can keep up.
Now, if the game becomes a slogging half-court war of attrition, that's a different story. Kalin Lucas' absence will be spotlighted and the Spartans will struggle mightily to put points on the board. It is imperative that Izzo get his troops to push the pace, pressure the UNI ball handlers, and force the Panthers into an unfamiliar early deficit.
The Midwest Regional opened up wider than a clown's mouth at a miniature golf course when the Jayhawks got bounced from the proceedings. Now it's time for Raymar, Durrell, Draymond, and Korie to step on through.
Everything about the Kentucky Wildcats screams "sure thing." They have a point guard (John Wall) that is the odds-on favorite to be the #1 overall pick in this summer's NBA Draft. They have another likely lottery pick in 6-foot-11 DeMarcus Cousins, a freakish athlete who could rack up double-doubles in his sleep. There's Eric Bledsoe, the freshman sniper, knocking down 15-of-24 shots in the first two rounds, including a sparkling 9-of-12 from downtown. And just for good measure, they throw in Patrick Patterson, the seasoned veteran of the group, and another player destined for the Association. But something just doesn't feel quite right. Try and stay with me here.
The most famous fan of UK hoops is the lovely and talented Ashley Judd. She has starred in countless movies over the years, one of which was the 2002 military thriller/drama High Crimes. Judd plays an attorney that has her life turned upside-down when her seemingly perfect husband (Jim Caviezel) is taken into custody for the murders of nine innocents that he may or may not have committed as a Sergeant with the U.S. Marines years ago.
Caviezel insists that he was not part of the killings, that he did nothing wrong. We are introduced to multiple characters that all seem to be working together to frame this man, and pin the blame on him for something he had nothing to do with. There are conflicting stories, sketchy eyewitnesses, and attempts at a cover-up whenever Judd seems to be getting close to the truth.
Finally, with the help of a drunken Morgan Freeman, Judd convinces the jury they have the wrong man and Caviezel is set free. All is well in the world as Ashley and her man drive off into the sunset.
He'd proclaimed his innocence throughout, the loyal wife did all she could to get him off, the final verdict was 100% in their favor, and here they were, just two lovebirds in some remote cabin celebrating the victory. But you just couldn't shake the feeling that something was off. It all just seemed too easy. About five minutes later, every one of those suspicions came true.
Caviezel pretends he is going out for a bottle of champagne, only to return a minute later with a crazed look in his eye that tells us all we need to know; "This guy has been guilty the whole time." He turns on Judd and tries to choke her out. Thankfully, he is gunned down during the scrap and our beautiful heroine survives.
What this story illustrates is that sometimes things just seem too perfect.
Caviezel was the perfect man with the perfect wife with the perfect alibi. But there was this huge, dark, secret just waiting to be exposed the whole time. In the end, it was.
Just like Ashley Judd's perfect 2010 Kentucky Wildcats basketball team. They have the all-world point guard, the silky-smooth 2-man, the Powers of Pain up front, and the slickest coach in the business, John Calipari, leading the troops. Their record sits at a near-flawless 34 and 2, with both losses coming in super-tight road affairs where they were either tied or within one point in the last two minutes of the game. They coasted through their first two tournament games, smashing East Tennessee State by 29 and Wake Forest by 30. There really isn't an obvious chink in the armor.
But something's missing. I just don't know exactly what it is. Maybe they rely too much on their freshmen. Maybe they don't have enough threats from three-point land. Maybe Calipari is just snakebit when he gets deep in the tournament.
When you have a feeling, sometimes you gotta go with it. And something about this Kentucky squad just feels funny. I'm not saying they'll lose to Cornell, and I'm not even saying they won't make it to the Final Four; but somewhere along the line, just like Jimmy Caviezel at the end of High Crimes, the truth will come out and this squad will go down.
Ashley Judd just can't catch a break...
The Big Fella
The most dominant player thus far in the tournament has undoubtedly been man-mountain Omar Samhan, the senior from Saint Mary's. Through just two games, Samhan has tallied an astounding 61 points to go with 19 rebounds. He is relatively nimble for a guy his size (listed 6'11", 260) and has an extremely soft touch around the basket. The free throw line has also become Samhan's friend this year, where he has converted on 74% of his attempts (he was just a 59% shooter as a sophomore). And even though he possesses the foot speed of Babe Ruth and the leaping ability of Ruth Riley, Samhan has still become an almost unstoppable force on the offensive end. But the way opposing coaches have chosen to defend him during the tournament has boggled my mind.
In the first two rounds, Samhan and the Saint Mary's Gaels faced off against Richmond and Villanova. Neither team is blessed with a ton of size. One would think that this lack of height and bulk would force these coaches to bring plenty of help on Samhan, to double him repeatedly on the catch and then do your best to rotate out to shooters when the ball is kicked out. Yes, one would think. But that is not at all what happened. Instead, both Chris Mooney and Jay Wright gambled that they could handle the big fella one-on-one, thinking that staying home on the shooters was more important. Hmm...I always thought that canning a long 22-footer was more difficult than a near 7-footer popping in little baby hooks from right around the rim, but apparently some coaches disagree. And the funny thing is, I haven't seen Samhan prove that he's a legitimate passer out of a double team.
On the rare occasion that one of these teams would bring help to their helpless post defenders, Samhan looked uncomfortable. He telegraphed passes and made silly turnovers. As a matter of fact, through two games, Samhan has attempted 32 shots, taken 18 free throws, but has yet to record a single assist. In his last eight games, he has a grand total of three helpers. That means teams are not doing a good enough job getting the ball out of his hands and forcing everyone else to beat them.
If you remember, when Hakeem Olajuowon was at his most dominant for the Rockets in the mid-90's on the way to back-to-back titles, it was often guys like Robert Horry, Mario Elie, and Kenny Smith knocking down clutch 3s in the closing minutes. This isn't to suggest that Olajuwon was unable to make big buckets down the stretch. In fact, just the opposite. Teams knew they had no chance of stopping Dream one-on-one, so they did their best to double down, rotate, and hope the shooters missed. It was the only chance they had.
Saint Mary's won the West Coast Conference tournament this year, knocking off Gonzaga in the finals. The Zags kept it close for about 35 minutes before Samhan and Co. pulled away late. But at least Mark Few and his staff had the right idea. They surrounded Samhan, whether or not he had the ball. They bothered him throughout the night, and he never got into a good rhythm. He attempted just nine shots, and scored just nine points (the only time in 33 games he was held to single digits). Unfortunately for Gonzaga, the Gaels' shooters were on fire. They shot nearly 50% from outside the arc and knocked down 10 treys by game's end. It's like a poker hand where you make the right read, but get drawn out on the river. You may have lost some coin, but least you can leave the table knowing you played it right.
Reach the High Socks Legend at email@example.com
Thursday, March 25, 2010
Monday, March 22, 2010
- It's good to know that Rip Hamilton has not thrown in the towel and is continuing to keep up the intensity in the face of a disastrous Pistons season. Phhhhhh. Yeah, either that, or the complete opposite of that. Rip was absolutely corpse-like on the court over the weekend, going scoreless (with 3 turnovers) in a loss to Indiana, and then knocking home 1 of 8 in the blowout defeat to the Cavs last night. Your 2009-10 Detroit Pistons, ladies and gentlemen. "Going to Work, Every Night. Well, not Every Night...but at Least Two or Three Times a Month."
- The Joe Nathan injury will not wind up hurting the Twins nearly as much as everyone thinks it will. The closer spot is one of the most interchangeable positions in all of sports. Look at a guy like Ryan Franklin, a journeyman right hander who tried unsuccessfully for years to be a solid major league starter, but wound up getting the ball in the 9th for St. Louis last year, and reeled off 38 saves for a playoff team. Examples like this can be found every year around the league. The Twins will plug in veteran guys like Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain when the 9th inning rolls around, and they will be just fine. And worse comes to worst, they can always go bring Everyday Eddie Guardado back to town. It seems like the big boy's about due for another go-round with the Twinkies, doesn't it?
- Boy, that John Malkovich sure was scary in Con Air. He made Charles Rane from Passenger 57 look like an upstanding citizen.
- Fictional Boxer Bio of the Week: JaSharkus Cummings
- I get abnormally fired up about 8-second violations in the NBA. Whenever a team is bringing the ball up court, and I see that shot clock start to tick down in the 19-18 range, all bets are off. There is generally screaming involved, and rarely am I able to remain seated until the ball crosses the timeline. This is not just the Pistons, either. Any game, any team, any situation. I just find this whole sequence to be extremely dramatic; and if the violation actually does wind up occurring...well, let's just say the biggest mess ain't taking place on the court.
- Defense is purely optional under Don Nelson in Golden State, and most times, it is deemed downright unacceptable. In the month of March alone, the Warriors have surrendered 123 to Memphis, 124 to Kobe and Friends, 127 to the Hawks, 135 to New Orleans, and a scoreboard-bursting ONE HUNDRED AND FORTY-SEVEN POINTS on Friday night to a middle of the road offensive club in the San Antonio Spurs. I'm fairly certain Geno Auriemma's girls from UCONN could hit the century mark against this squad. Yikes.
- Is there anything better in life than a real good bowl of macaroni and cheese? The answer to that question would be "No, there is not." It's such a cozy choice, allowing even a little baby like myself to feel like an adult by ordering a grown-up "pasta" dish like all the other sophisticates around the table. I've often had dreams of a restaurant where all they serve is Mac, in various forms with multiple cheese options at your disposal. You tellin' me you wouldn't go to this place a couple times a day, maybe 8-9 times a week? Of course you would. And there's probably a good chance you'd see me there, too.
NCAA Tournament Thoughts and Sweet 16 Predictions Coming Later in the Week. Reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Final Predictions for the 2010 NC Double-A Tournament
- Ohio State emerges as the Final Four entrant from the Midwest Regional. Evan Turner is already well known to college hoops fans across the country, but he's got ample support, too. William Buford has come on strong in the latter part of the year, and possesses a similar type of skill set as the future lottery pick Turner. Jonny Diebler provides the firepower from long range, while space-eater Dallas Lauderdale does his part to keep the Buckeyes from getting overwhelmed inside. The main concern with this club is their extremely short rotation, which could cause them to wear down as the tournament progresses. But I'm a big believer in Thad Matta, and have been impressed with his work ever since he took underdog Xavier to the Elite Eight in 2004 with my good friend Romain Sato leading the way. Columbus rejoices as the Bucks make it to Indianapolis to take on the...
- Butler Bulldogs. Yessiree, the Horizon League champs will finally make their mark when it counts and turn the West Regional upside-down. Like Ohio State, they will not come at you with a ton of players, but the ones they do throw on the court are very, very good. Sophmore Gordon Hayward is already being talked about as a future NBA ballplayer. He's 6-foot-9, can shoot the ball from anywhere on the floor, and is a terror on the glass. Shelvin Mack has hit big shots all year, and seems to get better as the stakes get higher. The main concern with this team is their lack of size. Matt Howard is their best inside player, but he's just 6'8" and wears a giant T-shirt under his jersey to hide the lack of muscle definition underneath. But that being said, this is still your typical Butler squad that plays exceptionally smart, makes plenty of 3s, and forces you into tough shots on the defensive end. With the Final Four being played right at home, it would be the ultimate Cinderella story to have little ol' Butler busting the bracket and dancing all the way to the semifinals. Either that, or UTEP is just too physical down low and Butler's on a plane back to campus by 7:00 tonight. Hey, at least I took a shot!
- My brother Sam will express his undying love for Luke Harangody at least 700 times over the course of the tourney, regardless of how many games the Dame plays. He's truly obsessed with the guy, to the point where I worry that one time when I go in his room he's gonna have Gody pictures plastered all over his wall like that psychotic mathematician from A Beautiful Mind. I'm just scared about the possibility of the Irish making a legitimate run through the bracket and Sam's excitement level gradually building to a point that just might be downright unhealthy. Let's all root for Old Dominion to end this thing right away...for everybody's sake.
- Michigan State will not advance past the Sweet 16. Maybe they get by Maryland in round two, but that's as far as they go. It's just not the same Spartan team we saw early in the year. Chris Allen's in trouble, Durrell Summers is in the doghouse, and that Garrick Sherman character gets a little bit whiter every time he steps foot on the court. I would not be surprised in the least if he shows up to the first practice next fall as an actual ghost. The excellent play of Raymar Morgan has been a pleasant surprise, but it just won't be enough to get Izzo's crew to the same heights they reached last April.
- Out of the East, I can't see a scenario where 32-2 Kentucky does not float through the bracket and get to Indy. John Calipari's team has been as consistent as any group in the country all year long, and boasts a wealth of young talent from several different spots on the floor. John Wall is the odds-on favorite for #1 overall pick in June's NBA Draft. He's a super-athletic 6-foot-4 point guard that is deadly in the open court. His outside shot still needs plenty of work, but at this level, he can still get by just fine with what he's got. The painted area is also in good hands with this squad. DeMarcus Cousins is a jumping-jack freshman at 6'11", and grizzled junior Patrick Patterson takes care of whatever is left. Calipari has been down this road before, and knows exactly what it takes to navigate through the maze successfully. Don't forget that if Chris Douglas-Roberts and Derrick Rose hit their free throws a couple years ago, this guy is a former National Championship-winning coach, and not just some guy in a $5,000 suit that looks like he spent the last 2 and a half hours applying mousse to his perfectly maintained lettuce.
- My cousin Mayer will make a flawless prediction at some point in the next three weeks. For instance, last year, when I wrote that Michigan State would have a decided advantage against North Carolina playing at home in Ford Field during the Final Four, and that this edge could quite possibly push the Spartans over the top, Mayer called shenanigans on me and set the story straight. He pointed out that this exact game took place just a couple months prior, and that the Tar Heels made mincemeat of MSU in the very same Ford Field. Mayer turned out to be 150% right as Carolina won that final game by 150 points. Can't wait to see what the wise one has in store for us this time around.
- I hate to say it, but I think this is the year Mike Krzyzewski brings his Duke Blue Devils back to the Final Four. It's been a good long while since Coach K danced to the final, but the drought ends now. Kyle Singler and Jon Scheyer are both fantastic shooters, from the 3-point line and the charity stripe. Nolan Smith has come into his own this year, and is the perfect third banana for the Devils on offense. Duke employs their usual brand of physical, unforgiving defense, and that will be the difference as they waltz through their region unscathed for the first time since 2004.
- As for the semi-finals and the finals (even though it's silly to predict outcomes of games that most likely will not happen), I like Evan Turner to best Gordon Hayward in one half of the bracket, and for Duke to knock off Kentucky on the other side in an epic battle between two powerhouse programs. As for the championship, and it pains me to say this, but I like the Buckeyes. I mean, don't get me wrong, I hate the Buckeyes. But I have been wildly impressed with Evan Turner's overall game and ability to remain poised even as his team faces a late deficit in a hostile setting. He can win the MOP award at the Final Four and ride off into the sunset, where he will almost undoubtedly be one of the first three players selected in the upcoming NBA draft.
- OR, I could be dead wrong about everything. That's what makes the NCAA tournament the best event in all of sports. Okay, second best. I really do love that World Strongman Championship.
Enjoy the tournament, people...
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
The 7 vs. 10 Games: Only one 7-seed has advanced all the way to the Final Four; Rick Carlisle's Virginia Cavaliers in 1984.
(7) Oklahoma State vs. (10) Georgia Tech
Like all 7-10 matchups, not an easy one to call, but I like the Cowboys. They played in the rough-and-tumble Big 12, were the only team in conference play to knock off Kansas, and feature a high-flying 2-guard in James Anderson that can take over a game all by himself. Georgia Tech has come on strong late in the season, making it to the finals of the ACC Tournament, but starting two freshmen and a sophomore in the Big Dance can sometimes lead to disaster. Look for Glen Rice, Jr. suiting up for the Yellow Jackets. Somehow, despite being the son of one of the best shooters of all-time, Little Rice shoots just 52% from the free throw line. He might have to join the "Jeff Jordan-Jeremiah Rivers Support Group" pretty soon.
(7) BYU vs. (10) Florida
I like the Mormons in this spot. The last three seasons, they've been pegged as an 8-seed, and have come up empty each time. This year, they were rewarded with a 7, and I think they'll finally get it done. Little Jimmer Fredette is a phenomenal shooter (47% from 3, 88% FT) that poured in 75 points in BYU's two conference tournament games last weekend. Florida is a squad that just seems to have lacked much punch or energy since the Noah-Horford-Brewer group won their titles and moved on. This year's attack is spearheaded by 5'8" gunner Erving Walker, a player so anxious to hoist from deep that he has actually taken some threes this year without ever possessing the ball. Go with the Cougs in this one, and don't be surprised if they put a little scare into Kansas State in round two.
(7) Clemson vs. (10) Missouri
History is not exactly on the side of Clemson in this one. The Tigers have not won a game in the NCAA tournament since 1997. Worse, their coach, Oliver Purnell, has been coaching Division-I ball for 22 years and is still looking for his first tournament victory. But, I think the drought finally ends here. Trevor Booker is a beast inside and Missouri is a finesse team that is lacking in the bulk department. They try to speed their opponents up and make them play their style, but Clemson is also plenty athletic and won't succumb to the frenetic ball pressure. With both teams enduring their fair share of ups and downs throughout the year, I wouldn't expect a prolonged run from either group, but I think Purnell can finally breathe easy after this game and celebrate tourney victory #1.
(7) Richmond vs. (10) Saint Mary's
This game presents an interesting battle of team strengths. Richmond has two outstanding guards, led by A-10 Player of the Year Kevin Anderson. Saint Mary's boasts the services of mammoth senior center Omar Samhan, a 260-pound immovable object on the interior. He averaged 21 and 11 on the year, and also had six games where he collected five or more swats. In a game like this, when dominant seniors can be found on both sides, I tend to lean in the direction of the team with the guards. They are the ones controlling the game, and no defensive alignment can keep them from handling the rock on every possession. But with Samhan, Richmond can junk up their defense, surround him on the block, and make everyone else beat them. In the WCC title game, Samhan got just 9 shot attempts, converting only 3. Richmond scampers on.
The 8 vs. 9 Games: The winner of this matchup has taken down the #1 seed in the following round just 12 of 100 times.
(8) UNLV vs. (9) Northern Iowa
The Panthers from Northern Iowa are known for their suffocating defense, allowing just 44 PPG in their three cakewalk victories through the Missouri Valley Tournament. In the first round of last year's tourney, they gave Purdue all they could handle. UNLV on the other hand, is an inexperienced crew led by a coach (Lon Kruger) that has not had a hair out of place since 1997. Plus, Northern Iowa starts three guys with the last names Eglseder, Ahelegbe, and Farokhmanesh. That spells F-U-N to me. The Hooked on Phonics boys get it done.
(8) Gonzaga vs. (9) Florida State
Every March, I fall in love with the Zags and wind up penciling them in all the way to the Final Four and beyond. And it always backfires. Adam Morrison, Jeremy Pargo, Austin Daye...it never works out. So I'm resisting the temptation this year. I'm backing the 'Noles, even if they are one of the most mediocre teams in the entire field. I guess what I'm hoping for is that neither of these teams advances, if there's any way that can be made possible.
(8) Texas vs. (9) Wake Forest
Wake Forest enters this game losers of 5 of their last 6, including a 21-point woodshed job in the ACC tournament at the hands of last-place Miami (FL). Texas also sputtered to the finish line, dropping 3 of 5 down the stretch, each loss by 15 points or more. I think the Longhorns' muscular front line will be the difference, but I wouldn't recommend sending this game tape to Springfield, Mass anytime soon.
(8) California vs. (9) Louisville
My buddy BK is a pretty hard-core fan of the Cal Bears. The main reason for this being that Adam Duritz, the front man of his favorite band (Counting Crows), attended Berkeley and has been their biggest celebrity groupie for years. So BK has jumped on board and become a Cal guy himself. More often than not, this obsession turns into disappointment right around mid-March as the Bears get whacked by a better team early in the bracket. I don't see this year being any different. Pitino tells Mike Montgomery, Goodnight L.A.
The #6 Seeds: I enjoy picking 6-seeds to knock off the #3 in the following round. It's a way of saying, "Hey, I'm willing to get a little crazy; but in a nice, polite way."
Tennessee (vs. San Diego State)
This hasn't been a typical Bruce Pearl year at Tennessee. The Vols were up and down all year long. They had off the court problems and had to dismiss their best player, Tyler Smith. They had nights where they looked unbeatable (knocking off Kansas and Kentucky at home), and then nights where they looked absolutely dreadful (getting blasted by Pac-10 also-ran USC). That being said, I've still seen Pearl do some incredible things come money time, especially during his years at UW-Milwaukee. Rocky Top in a squeaker.
Xavier (vs. Minnesota)
The Mr. Basketball award in Michigan was won by little Brad Redford in 2008. He decided to take his lethal three-point shot to Xavier. But after a decent freshman year and a solid start to this campaign, he has seen his playing time almost evaporate completely down the stretch. He's shot the long ball at well over 40% in both years, but somehow, he hasn't been able to get consistent time for the Musketeers. It makes you wonder how a guy like John Beilein that craves outside shooters couldn't convince Redford to stay in-state and jack up countless treys wearing the Maize and Blue for the next four years. You're telling me Redford wouldn't be infinitely more effective than a guy like Laval Lucas-Perry, or even Stu "I make shots once a month" Douglass? Oh well, might end up being a lose-lose for both parties.
Marquette (vs. Washington)
Not too high on the Golden Eagles this year, but that being said, I think the winner of this game knocks off 3rd-seeded New Mexico in round two. I just think Washington comes in as the hotter team here, and also, I'm not comfortable backing a head coach named "Buzz."
Notre Dame (vs. Old Dominion)
It's the Luke Harangody show!! Have you ever been more confused at a particular player's dominance? You watch this guy for 10 minutes; he's rumbling awkwardly down the court, he's flicking up mid-range Js that make Shawn Marion's delivery look smooth, and he appears to be carrying about an extra 20 or 25 in the tummy region. But somehow, the guy produces night in and night out, often pumping in more than 30 points. I'm just not sure how. I think March might turn into the "Month of 'Gody." Either that, or there is the distinct possibility that I've gone completely out of my mind. I'll take the former on that one.
See ya tomorrow for the Madness Preview finale, including Final Four and championship game predictions.
Drop a bracket-related thought of your own, or float me an E-mail at email@example.com
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
14: A pesky group of 14s, here. Look out...
Ohio (vs. Georgetown)
Big Ten followers might remember the name Armon Bassett, a 6'2" guard that played two years at Indiana before jumping ship during the Kelvin Sampson fiasco. After being a pretty good complimentary piece during his time in Bloomington, Bassett has now emerged as Mr. Everything for this Bobcats squad. In their four MAC tournament games, Bassett played 165 of a possible 170 minutes, averaged 29 a night, and got to the line almost 15 times per game. Ohio will have their hands full with the streaking Hoyas in this spot, but if Bassett continues to scorch the nets and get to the line like Wilt Chamberlain, anything's possible.
Oakland (vs. Pittsburgh)
While Pitt is always a very physical team that will hound you on the defensive end, this is not a terrible draw for Greg Kampe's Golden Grizzlies. They get to play in Milwaukee, which is only a stone's throw from Detroit (okay, about a six-hour drive, but not too bad). And OU's Keith Benson, the Summit League Player of the Year, will be the biggest and baddest guy on the court for either team. Pitt doesn't throw a ton of size at you, and if Benson stays out of foul trouble, he might be able to turn the painted area into his own personal domain on Friday afternoon. Two other players to keep an eye on: Derrick Nelson, a 9th-year Senior forward that exploded for 36 in the conference championship game; and Blake Cushingberry, Oakland's supersized shooting guard. He stands just 6-foot-3, but I'd say he carries at least a solid deuce-seventy in that frame. Well done, sir.
Montana (vs. New Mexico)
Wouldn't be the worst spot to pick an upset. Anthony Johnson for Montana is an unstoppable force on the offensive end, going off for 42 in the Big Sky title game. And doesn't it just seem a little bit strange to see New Mexico as a 3-seed? Something doesn't feel right here.
Sam Houston State (vs. Baylor)
There's some bad karma at play with this club. First of all, their nickname: the Bearkats. You read that correctly. Bearkat, with a K. I know Sam Houston State is not exactly the Harvard of the South, but you figure they could have at least brought in some knowledgeable middle-schoolers to aid with this spelling. And in an even worse slice of karma, Sam Houston, the fun-loving wrestler from the mid to late 80's, is now serving a ten-year prison sentence for multiple DUI arrests. And right before that, his house was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. But yeah, besides all that, I really like their chances against Baylor. Phhhhhh.
13: We're the 13-seeds. And we're about to break your heart.
Houston (vs. Maryland)
This contest will feature one of the best individual matchups of the opening round with Houston's Aubrey Coleman facing off against Maryland's Greivis Vasquez. Both are senior guards that most definitely do not require an invitation to shoot. Coleman led the nation in scoring with 26 a game, while Vasquez took home Player of the Year honors in the ACC. The winner of this one will most likely find Michigan State waiting in round two.
Murray State (vs. Vanderbilt)
A unique team. Six players average between 9.5 and 10.6 PPG. Their tournament MVP was a freshman...that comes off the bench. The Racers also racked up a highly impressive 30-4 mark on the year, although it did come against a cupcake schedule that included back-to-back matchups in late December against a Deering High squad led by Anthony Anderson and Coach Dick Butkus. And the best they could do was split.
Wofford (vs. Wisconsin)
The kids from Wofford are making the school's first ever trip to the Big Dance, and history tells us it might be a very short visit. See, earlier this year, Wofford got wasted at Illinois by 14. And in Illinois' regular season finale, Wisconsin trampled them by 15. Combine those two results, and we discover that Wisconsin is 29 points better than Wofford. Simple math.
Siena (vs. Purdue)
Please do not stick us with regional coverage of this game. Really. We understand it is a Big Ten team, and that we should be interested. But we're not. Please show us something else. We thank you for your expected cooperation in this matter.
Signed, The Entire State of Michigan
12: Mister Twelve has won 5 of the last 8 meetings with his annual rival, Dr. Five-Seed.
New Mexico State (vs. Michigan State)
The surprise WAC tournament champion enters their matchup with Michigan State riding a wave of momentum, but the buck will stop here. The Aggies rely on their duo of high-scoring guards, Jahmar Young (right) and Jonathan Gibson. But this team is not overly physical and lacks consistent effort on the defensive end; not a great recipe for success heading into a bullfight with Tom Izzo and Co. A quick glance at New Mexico State's non-conference schedule reveals some pretty significant cracks in their armor. They played on the road against Saint Mary's and UCLA, and dropped both games by identical 100 to 68 scores. They played archrival New Mexico twice and lost each time by double digits. They took on fellow tournament qualifier UTEP at home, and got rolled by 21. When this team steps up in competition, it doesn't generally turn out very well. And it won't here, either.
UTEP (vs. Butler)
An interesting battle between two clubs that absolutely dominated their respective leagues during the regular season. UTEP went 15-1 in Conference USA, while Butler did them one better in their spotless 18-0 jaunt through the Horizon. It should be a competitive game, but Butler just plays too smart and is too experienced to get knocked off this early in the proceedings.
Cornell (vs. Temple)
I know this is the "hot" upset pick, and everybody and their brother are jumping on the Big Red bandwagon, and that this is typically the death-knell for an upset-minded team, but I say screw it: make room for one more guy on the Cornell train. These guys absolutely throttled the competition in the Ivy League, and lost by just five points in Lawrence against the Jayhawks. Ryan Wittman (son of Randy) is one of the best shooters in the country, and 7-footer Jeff Foote is a present-day Jon Koncak. Their opponent, Temple, makes the game extremely ugly and keeps the score low, but look for the experienced crew from Ithaca to advance into the round of 32.
Utah State (vs. Texas A & M)
Hey, it's the Aggies versus the Aggies. Cue lame play-by-play guy right before tipoff..."Well Jim, we should be in for a good one today, and I might be goin' out on a limb here, but I think the Aggies are gonna take this one!!" Bup, bup, bup...that's hilarious, dude. You here all week??
11: Two of the 6 vs. 11 matchups last year were decided by one point.
San Diego State (vs. Tennessee)
In both 1992 and 1993, Steve Fisher took his Fab Fivers and advanced all the way to the National Championship game. The following year, Chris Webber jumped ship, but Fisher still led the Wolverines to the Elite Eight. That's 13 NCAA victories in a three year span. It's been sixteen years since, and Fisher is yet to win another game in the tournament. But as Nicolas Cage said of his beloved Nets in The Family Man, "The Nets? Are you kidding? They suck. But they're due. They're certainly due..."
Minnesota (vs. Xavier)
Simple postseason rule for 2010: if you drop two games to Michigan during the year, and one of those losses is a 28-point thrashing at near-dormant Crisler Arena, then you are not going anywhere in the NCAA Tournament. As Kevin Bacon coldly stated in A Few Good Men, "These are the facts; and they are indisputable."
Washington (vs. Marquette)
This game has first-round classic written all over it. The Huskies are led by a lightning-quick guard named Isaiah Thomas. But unlike the original Zeke, this one is left handed, stands just 5-foot-9, and basically shoots the ball every time he touches it. U-Dub by 1 in a mini-upset.
Old Dominion (vs. Notre Dame)
One of those quirky 12:25 starts on Thursday afternoon where the arena is half-empty, the players are still waking up, and midway through the first half, the score is 11-10 with both teams combining for a zillion turnovers. First team to 35 wins this one.
Two more days till the Madness officially commences.
See ya tomorrow for Part Three.
Drop a bracket-related thought of your own, or float me an E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday, March 15, 2010
16: A team with this seed has NEVER won a game in the tourney...and probably never will.
Lehigh (vs. Kansas)
The Mountain Hawks lost a game this year to a horrendous Columbia squad from the Ivy League, and also dropped one to Navy, who I'd always thought shut down their basketball program when David Robinson graduated. I'm pretty sure Kansas could send out a starting five consisting of all walk-ons with a few male cheerleaders providing support off the bench, and they'd still roll over the boys from Lehigh by half a hundo.
Vermont (vs. Syracuse)
Pulled a major upset over Syracuse a few years ago on the back of sharpshooter T.J. Sorrentine, but the odds of a repeat result in this one are somewhere between slim and none. And slim just walked out the door. And got run over by a double-decker bus. And got dragged for a few miles after that. In other words, it ain't happenin' for the Catamounts. And no, I do not know what a Catamount is. And I kinda hope I never find out.
East Tennessee State (vs. Kentucky)
They qualified for The Dance by winning the Atlantic Sun, a conference occupied by a bunch of schools with fictional names that make you genuinely wonder if any of these "teams" actually exist. Seriously, have you ever heard of "Campbell?" How about "Kennesaw State?" And most ridiculous of all, there is "Florida Gulf Coast" and something called "USC Upstate," two places that sound much more like maximum-security prisons than respected academic institutions. Bizarre conference.
Play-In Game: Arkansas Pine Bluff or Winthrop (vs. Duke)
Ahh yes, the annual Tuesday night tournament play-in game. This easily qualifies on the HSL's list of "Most Depressing Games to Watch During the Year in Any Sport." Also on that list, in no particular order: the Pro Bowl, Sunday afternoon regular season Raptors telecasts on CBC, any college hockey game, more than one half inning of Spring Training baseball, and finally, the World Strongman Championships (when you realize after a couple events that this particular show is one that you have already seen before...and not just once).
15: One of these teams will generally get a little frisky every six or seven years.
UC Santa Barbara (vs. Ohio State)
If the Gauchos are to have any chance of taking out heavily favored Ohio State, they will need a superhuman effort from their star two-guard Orlando Johnson, Player of the Year in the Big West Conference. But weird as it sounds, I don't think he is capable. Somehow, Johnson was able to average 18 points a game this season without ever scoring more than 28 in any one contest (and never scoring below 10). Normally, if you average close to 20 a game, there are some dynamic performances (35-40 pts) mixed in with some clunkers (single digit games) and that's that. But Santa Barbara's Johnson hums to a different tune. That might be all well and good playing against mooks at Long Beach State and Cal Poly, but if the O-Dog has visions of dancing into the second round, he better hit that 30-point mark on Friday night.
North Texas (vs. Kansas State)
The team with the coolest nickname in the tournament. The North Texas Mean Green. Coooool, right??? And don't sleep on these fellas, either. They haven't lost since January and they are playing 2nd-seeded Kansas State, a school that has always been more at home on the gridiron than the hardwood.
Morgan State (vs. West Virginia)
Two years ago, the Bears drew Virginia Tech in the opening round of the NIT and got housed by 32. Last year, they made it to the big tournament, met Oklahoma, but this time only got smoked by 28. At this rate, in about seven years, Morgan State will officially emerge as a force to be reckoned with. Until then, it still might be a little hard to watch.
Robert Morris (vs. Villanova)
Seeing this school in the tournament just makes me miss my former "Favorite school named after a random guy nobody has ever heard of," Morris Brown College. The 'Mo Brown' academy was always a crowd-pleaser until they encountered some financial troubles in the early part of the decade, causing the once-storied athletic department to go belly-up. I always got a kick out of seeing the school on TV because I just assumed it was named for the Morris Brown that lived in my neighborhood. "Wow!" I thought, "Mo Brown is such a legend that he got his own school named after him!!" But I come to find out years later that the college in question was in fact a historically black school. The Morris Brown we knew was straight vanilla. It was a disappointing revelation, but all good things have to come to an end at some point. Just like this article.
See ya tomorrow for Part II.
Drop a thought on the 15-16 seeds here, or float me an E-mail at email@example.com
Thursday, March 11, 2010
1. Durrell Summers (Michigan State)
With Chris Allen's status in jeopardy, the pressure is on the multi-talented Summers to step up and assert himself on the offensive end. Throughout the year, it has kind of been his M.O. to play terrific ball against the weaker teams and struggle mightily against the good ones. He averaged over 20 points per game against Northwestern, while contributing a paltry 5 per night against Purdue. His effort will need to be much more consistent in order for Sparty to make an extended run in this tourney, and then the big one next week.
(Weird Stat: In Summers' freshman season, he knocked down 50% of his shots from long range. In his sophomore year, with many more attempts, his percentage went down, but still checked in at a very respectable 38.5%. This year, when Summers was supposed to be flourishing and putting it all together, his stroke often deserted him, with his 3-point accuracy dwindling to 29.8%. Now would be a good time to start finding your stroke, sir.)
2. Michael "Juice" Thompson (Northwestern)
First off, isn't it always more fun when there is an athlete named "Juice" involved in the proceedings? Why even bother with the "Michael"?? If we have an option to call you Juice, we are taking it...no questions asked. And in addition to this 5'10" guard's sweet alias, he's also got a little game to go with it. He runs the point for the Wildcats, and is often the one taking and making big shots down the stretch. It's been a career year for the Juicer. However, with this newfound confidence, our friend has also managed to lose any semblance of a conscience when it comes to shot selection. In their season-ending heart breaker at Indiana, Thompson jacked up an eye-popping 16 shots from beyond the arc. Just two games prior, in a loss to Penn State, he hoisted another 11 threes. I'm not saying these shots are necessarily ill-advised (he's over 40% for his career), but generally you would like for your point guard to be doing a little more distributing and a little less launching. But hey, when your name is "Juice," you can pretty much do whatever the hell you want. That's just a fact of life...
3. Jeff Jordan (Illinois)
C'mon, just tell us the truth already, Jeff. You're not really Michael Jordan's son, are you? I mean, we've all seen you play, and it just doesn't seem possible.
Your dad was the greatest of all time.
You have made one basket in your last seven games.
Your dad won six NBA championships, and was named MVP in every single one.
You are a 55.8% free throw shooter for your career.
Your dad was an NCAA tournament legend, knocking down the game-winner for North Carolina to take the 1982 title.
You consider it a minor miracle if you are simply able to play more than 10 minutes in a game without committing a costly turnover or embarrassing your family.
(Most likely, both of these things will happen.)
4. Blake Hoffarber (Minnesota)
Midway through the conference season, the sharpshooter Hoffarber was absolutely killing it and providing the Gophers with a reliable long-range threat on a nightly basis. He poured in a season-high 27 in a home thrashing over Ohio State. But in the latter part of the season, the lefty Hoffarber has been a complete non-factor. He's gone five straight games without registering in double figures (he averages close to 11/game), and his playing time has been reduced in the process. For Tubby Smith's crew to have any shot of dancing come tourney time, they will need a good showing this weekend, and that means getting their funny-named sniper back in business.
5. Jeremiah Rivers (Indiana)
Another former NBA player's son (Doc Rivers) that basically manages to disappoint his father every time he steps foot on the floor. Jeremiah has been playing in college for approximately seven years (his first six were at G'town) and somehow, he is still just a junior. In his spare time, he likes to hang out with friends, take long walks on the beach, and turn the ball over as much as humanly possible. For a guy who isn't much of a playmaker to begin with, there is no excuse for him to turn the rock over as much as he does. In his time at Georgetown, he collected 65 assists while committing 64 turnovers. That's not the ratio you're lookin' for in a guard. This year, Jeremiah decided to step it up a notch. In the Hoosiers' first 8 games of the year, he notched at least 3 turnovers in every single one. In fact, Rivers appeared in all 30 games for IU this year, and defying the odds, was able to commit a turnover in all 30. What a (sick) streak!!
(Hey, at least the kid can shoot, right?? Ummm. Try this on for size. Rivers is sub-40% from the field, sub-60 from the stripe, and a sparkling zero-for-five from downtown. Yama-Hama, it's Fright Night in Bloomington!!)
6. Trevon Hughes (Wisconsin)
The 6-footer from Queens has improved in each of his four seasons in Madison, and now looks to lead the smokin'-hot Badgers to their second tournament championship in the last three years. In Wiscy's trio of wins to finish off the season, they trounced Indiana by 32, Iowa by 27, and Illinois (in Champaign) by 15, due in no small part to the vast contributions of Trevon Hughes. When this guy and Jason Bohannon are both hitting shots, Bo Ryan's club becomes almost unbeatable. Even if you hate the Badgers (as many Spartan and Wolverine fans do), you have to respect any player that plays with as much passion as Hughes. In their finale against Illinois, despite being saddled with foul trouble all day long, the little guy scored 14 points and hauled down 11 rebounds in just 22 minutes of play. Eleven boards in 22 minutes...for a 6-foot guard?? I haven't seen a stat line like that since 1985 when feisty Scotty Howard was "wolfing out" for the Beacontown High Beavers. Moving on...
7. Talor Battle (Penn State)
Talk about a lack of a supporting cast. Battle spent the majority of the year torching opposing defenses while his teammates looked on and...well, yea, they pretty much just looked on. Even with some spirited efforts down the stretch, the Nittany Lions still won just 3 of 18 conference games. Battle is really the only guy worth mentioning on this squad, and it makes me miss the days when the Nittanys were semi-relevant in the hoops world with the Crispin brothers bombing away from 35 feet with regularity. I know those guys weren't twins, but they sure seemed like it. Chances are, if you can correctly identify which Crispin is which (Jon or Joe) just by looking at their faces, you are either
A) the boys' mother, or
B) someone that had a bit of a gambling problem from 1999-2001.
8. Chris Kramer (Purdue)
I can't stand this guy. Hate his incessant flopping (yeah, I said it). Hate his broken jump shot (28% from 3). Hate the way every single announcer feels the need to laud this guy's effort and toughness as if he is the first basketball player ever to exhibit any passion or energy during a game. My brother Sam loves the guy, and for the life of me, I can't figure out why. Kramer is like a mini college version of Anderson Varejão. That's fun to root for?? Why don't you just go ahead and cheer for the Yankees, the Celtics, and unbuttered popcorn while you're at it?
(Prediction: Purdue will not get to the final of this tournament. Assuming they get by Juice or Jeremiah in Round 2, I see the Boilers bowing out to Sparty quietly in the semis. Robbie Hummel just meant too much to this team. His loss cannot be underestimated.)
9. Jon Diebler (Ohio State)
Everyone remembers that Florida team from a few years ago that cruised to back-to-back championships under William Donovan. They had future NBA'ers like Joakim Noah, Al Horford, and Corey Brewer. But more often than not, it was little Lee Humphrey taking his position outside the arc and hitting big shot after big shot to keep his team advancing in the bracket. He wasn't a superstar and he never got a ton of headlines, but his role was critical, and they likely don't win either championship without him. Well, if Ohio State plans on reaching that same apex of the college basketball world, they will need a similar performance from their Lee Humphrey...Mr. Jon Diebler. The Buckeye guard runs hot and cold, though. In the final game of the season, he banged home 7 triples in 14 tries. But in the two contests prior, he had connected on just 3 of 17 from long range. This team has all the components. Evan Turner, the do-it-all superstar. William Buford and David Lighty, the supporting actors. And appropriately-named Dallas Lauderdale holding down the fort inside. But it might be the streaky Diebler that decides just how far this team can go.
10. Darius Morris (Michigan)
John Beilein has taken the reigns off Morris down the stretch, pushing the freshman point guard's minutes into the 30s and letting him dictate the tempo of the game. It hasn't exactly translated into W's in the standings, but this team is so lacking in athleticism from the backcourt that Beilein has had no other choice but to throw the kid into the fire. Morris still has many obvious holes in his game (7 for 37 from downtown...yikes), but with the yearlong struggles of guys like Stu Douglass and Laval Lucas-Perry, it only makes sense to let Morris run the team, make the occasional highlight play in the open court, and go on generally looking like the black version of former Tigers hurler Don Mossi. (Look him up if you have to...these guys were definitely born with the same set of alien-ears.)
11. Devan Bawinkel (Iowa)
A hero to gunners everywhere that fear the paint and adore the long line.
83 Shots Attempted this Season.
Every single one taken from beyond the arc.
One more two-less game and history will be made.
I can't wait...
Drop a comment on Summers, Juice, or Bawinkel...or reach me by E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday, March 8, 2010
Earlier this season, the Pistons paid a visit to D.C. to take on the Washington Wizards. During that game, a shocking discovery came to light, and frankly, I haven't been the same since. Let's take a look back on that unforgettable night...
The Pistons and Wizards were getting set to tip-off. The players took the floor, the referees got in position, and the coaches took their seats. Everything seemed perfectly fine and normal...then I saw it.
It was an uncomfortable sight to see.
No, scratch that...it was a startling, nightmare-inducing sight to see.
No, no, no, scratch that, too...it was the single worst thing I had ever seen in my life.
The it I refer to is none other than the starting shooting guard for the Washington Wizards on this night, Mike Miller. I don't know how else to say this, so I'll just come right out with it.
The signs were all there. He was heavy. He was bloated. Looked like he hadn't showered since training camp. He was wearing a giant shoulder/torso contraption underneath his jersey, undoubtedly a tool he picked up in Lamaze class to assist with breathing when the big day arrives.
His hair, typically well-coiffed and styled, now looked unwashed and grimy. It was excessively long, had strawberry blond highlights mixed throughout, and then in the back, Miller had fashioned some kind of dirty mock-ponytail deal that made him look like a cross between Mario Batali and the chunky middle school version of D.J. Tanner. Almost makes you shiver just thinking about it. I mean, Miller was never Mr. America or anything, but at least when he was at Florida and early in his NBA career, he kept his hair clean and short, even if it did make him look exactly like Hilary Swank's character from Boys Don't Cry.
In the early moments of this game, maybe the second or third possession, a whistle blew and there was a short stoppage in play. The camera panned to a clearly exhausted Miller, bent over with hands on knees, and desperately gasping for air. Pistons' play-by-play man Mark Champion tried justifying Miller's fatigue by saying something like, "Well, that's what happens when you miss a couple of weeks. It takes time to get readjusted to the speed of the game."
Nice try, Mark.
Miller was most definitely panting and wheezing, but it had nothing to do with missed time. It had to do with the fact that he was carrying another human life inside his belly.
Whenever Rodney Stuckey or Ben Gordon would start to make a move off the dribble to steam past Miller, you couldn't help but feel a tinge of sympathy. The poor man obviously had no chance of keeping up and would usually wind up grabbing an arm or piece of the jersey as they sped by. But it didn't end there.
See, pregnant women are known to be moody and irritable. Miller was no exception.
Each time the referee saddled him with another foul, Miller would lose it. He made ugly faces. He whined incessantly. He had a look in his eye that said, "I need a big jar of pickles and a quart of chocolate ice cream...IMMEDIATELY!"
At one point, a Piston slipped on a wet spot in the paint and the ballboy went to clean it up. Ninety-nine percent of the time in this situation, you assume it's just a player's sweat that dripped onto the floor, making it slippery. However, when Mama Miller is roamin' the hardwood, you really have to consider the possibility that homeboy's water just broke with serious contractions not far behind.
The question is, how are Flip Saunders and Co. going to keep their expectant shooting guard safe as the year progresses and he enters his third trimester?? Your guess is as good as mine, but let's just hope that opposing defenses know better than to foul Miller hard as he enters the lane.
There's a bun in that oven...
Leave a comment or thought below, or feel free to shoot me an E-mail at
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Friday, March 5, 2010
5 Things Joe Dumars Must Have Forgotten about Charlie Villanueva when he Signed him for $35 Million Dollars Last Summer
1. He's a big man who likes to shoot 3s...only, he ain't a good 3-point shooter.
See, as Pistons fans, we have seen this act quite a bit the last few years (see: Rasheed Wallace), and lemme tell you, it is even less fun the second time around. Charlie Villanueva is 6-foot-11, but you wouldn't know it from his game. This man just loves to shoot the long ball. In a home loss to Portland last month, Charlie V jacked up 9 from long range...he made 1. In the tight loss to the Celtics earlier this week, he hoisted 4 from distance...he made none. For the year, he is shooting 32% on 3s, which is pretty much right at his career average (.326). It's not like the guy is just struggling with his outside shot; it was just never that good to begin with.
2. He's not in the best shape, he's not in the worst shape. He's just kind of..."doughy."
Simply put, doughy is never a good adjective to have placed on you as a professional athlete. Its meaning is exactly what you think. While other NBA power forwards have toned bodies composed of lean muscle mass, Villanueva's main core is composed of actual cookie dough. Homeboy is soft, with a capital S. When you think of the word doughy, it conjures up memories of guys like Chris Gatling and George McCloud. They weren't necessarily in terrible physical condition, but it doesn't mean it would have been a pleasant experience to see them shirtless in the locker room after a game. At least with a guy like Rasheed, he was somewhat sculpted early in his career. Charlie V is only 25, and he's already starting to look like Terry Mills. Doughy might be an understatement three years from now...yikes.
3. He's got a little bit of funk in his post-up game...just don't expect the ball ever to be kicked out once he gets his mitts on it.
I made the joke earlier this year that in watching Villanueva play, it almost seems like he literally is not aware that when he receives the ball in the post, he still possesses the option to either shoot or pass. I really think that he is just unaware of the rules of the game and thinks that when he is delivered the ball on the block, he has to shoot, or the ball is turned over to the other team. That's the only explanation for the way he plays. Don't get me wrong, Villanueva is a semi-capable scorer down near the paint. He's got a nice little arsenal of jump hooks and awkward turnarounds. But he is definitely a "black hole." Meaning, once the ball goes in, it ain't comin' back out. You could double-team him, you could triple-team him...hell, you could send your entire roster and your coaching staff out on the floor to surround him in the post, and he would still send the ball towards the rim before it's all said and done. Watch an old tape of Hakeem in the Finals in '94 and '95. He was downright filthy on the block, scoring at will against whoever was guarding him. However, when help came, he was always willing to dish out to Robert Horry, Kenny Smith, Mario Elie, or whoever was open out on the perimeter. It's a mandatory skill for any guy that wants to get the ball in the post on a regular basis. Apparently Charlie V never got that memo.
4. Defense Optional
There is a lot wrong with Mr. Villanueva's work on the defensive side of the ball. And I think it starts with that funny body of his. He's almost 7 feet tall, but still lacks the necessary bulk to match up with beefy power forwards like Carlos Boozer. And if you want to free him up from all that banging and have him defend the 3-man, now it's his absence of foot speed and athleticism that makes the matchup a nightmare. There's really nowhere to hide him. One time this year, Al Harrington of the Knicks backed Villanueva all the way down for a layup. Ordinarily, this wouldn't be a big deal. Except that Harrington started his voyage at the 3-point line. It may have been the first 22-foot post-up in NBA history. No coincidence that it involved our boy Charlie, a true NBA sieve.
5. Dude's attitude is prittttay, prittttay, shaky.
It's always been a concern for the Villanueva followers throughout his basketball career. Does the guy really care enough to be a top NBA player, or is he pretty much fine with sailing through his 8-10 years, making his money, and not breaking too much of a sweat in the process? I hate to say it, but I think it's clearly the latter. I just don't see much desire from Charlie. There have been rare moments this year when he gets fired up during a game. In an upset home win over Boston during the season's 1st half, it was Villanueva who kept knocking down big shots in the final minutes. After his final dagger trey, followed by a Celts timeout, Villanueva came bounding over to the Pistons bench, smile as wide as could be, high-fiving teammates and receiving a standing O from the crowd. It was the first real proof we had that this guy might actually be a force on the court, instead of the oversized human equivalent to rice pilaf that he often appeared to be. But alas, those moments have been few and far between. Just recently, John Kuester gave Villanueva his own personal quarters in the doghouse, playing him just 3 minutes in a loss to Orlando, and saying things like, "Charlie will be a good player for us down the road. We just got to make sure he's on the page of what we want to get accomplished." Hmmm, he will be a good player "down the road"?? It's his fifth year in the league...exactly when is the light going to flick on? And is there a bigger red flag than the coach saying that a certain player "needs to be on the same page" of what the team is trying to accomplish? One would safely assume the team's goals are winning and playing together. After 61 games, if Villanueva is still struggling to understand this, then we've got big problems.
Charlie Villanueva. Under contract for four more seasons.
Don't worry...I just got the chills, too.
Reach the High Socks Legend at email@example.com, or leave your own thoughts on Charlie V in the comments section below.
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Or check out some other High Socks NBA articles of the past couple weeks...
A Triple Double for a Couple Curly Fries
The Night Shareef Abdur-Rahim Broke my Heart